South Africa 14-14 England, Port Elizabeth
Lancaster's side lay the foundations
June 23, 2012
England's Tom Johnson hauls South Africa's JP Pietersen to the ground © Getty Images
A draw may be like kissing your sister, but England at least have a platform to build on ahead of the autumn Tests.
The Springboks have won the Test series 2-0 meaning the three northern hemisphere sides have come away from their foray south of the equator with no wins to their name. But you have to feel that England have learnt the most out of their three Tests and two midweek matches. England were playing at one stage with a 10, 12, 13 all of whom are 21 or younger and although they will come back bruised and battered from their time in South Africa, they will have learnt a huge amount about themselves and the sport while on tour. The draw may also lift England up into fourth in the IRB rankings ahead of the World Cup draw in December.
Danny Care has had a torrid 12 months but he repaid Stuart Lancaster's faith with a solid performance throughout. The try apart, Care provided key level headed guidance at scrum-half and helped move around the England backline and unleash the strike runners when needed. In contrast, Owen Farrell struggled at fly-half when he came on for Toby Flood after 12 minutes.
He kicked away far too much ball and bar one perfectly weighted kick which honed in on Gio Aplon, his kicking was wayward and gifted two of the most dangerous wingers in world rugby - Bryan Habana and JP Pietersen - with broken field and the space to take the ball straight back to England. At the end of the match his decision to attempt the drop-goal from 30 or so metres out in the dreadful conditions was, with the benefit of an armchair seat and foresight, the wrong option but there is no doubt over Farrell's talents. As Jonny Wilkinson said midweek, Farrell's the future of English rugby and this tour would have aided his development hugely.
Alongside Care, another big positive for Lancaster would have been Thomas Waldrom at No.8. Waldrom adapted to the necessary Test match intensity immediately, in what was his first Test start, and gave them essential go-forward. He made 73 metres with ball in hand and was aided ably by his two lieutenants Tom Johnson and James Haskell who both performed well.
England still require that slight spark with Farrell's propensity to kick perhaps due to the lack of options in the back five which are still missing that Jason Robinson-esque effect. But at one stage around the 70 minute mark, England made 20 or so phases and it was Manu Tuilagi who danced through the Boks defence, eventually drawing the penalty. They need the same from their back three, but Alex Goode, Ben Foden and Chris Ashton had a nice balance in their first outing together. Goode was solid under the high ball, Foden made some good yards and Ashton put in the hit of the series on Aplon on the 44th minute.
For Heyneke Meyer, his side missed Willem Alberts. The other three sides in the Rugby Championship should also note that they were without Schalk Burger, Francois Steyn and Pat Lambie. But he will take heart from the 2-0 result with his new-look second-row partnership of Eben Etzebeth and Juandre Kruger looking established and on the same wavelength. But he will have to make a big call on Morne Steyn.
He had an atrocious game. He missed key kicks from the tee and missed a drop-goal that two years ago he would have nailed with his eyes shut. He needs to re-find his confidence urgently so that the Boks get the points on the bored they deserve.
While South Africa's international season is just getting underway, England's is over and they will return to Heathrow having grown as a side and as individuals. They've lost the Test series but the experience will put them in good stead ahead of the autumn Tests when the side will be judged on results rather than strength of character.
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
Tom Hamilton is the Assistant Editor of ESPNscrum.